Mental health and well-being in the military are critical areas that must be addressed with understanding and compassion. Today, our focus is depression.
Suicide rates among the military population used to be less prevalent than in the civilian population. However, in 2005 suicide within the military, particularly the Army, steadily began increasing to record levels every year, until in 2008 it exceeded the civilian matched population rates. Defense Department officials are hopeful those rates are in a state of decline.
Contrary to the popular belief that mental illness and suicide in the military is largely attributed to stressors from deployment, the largest study of mental health risk and resilience ever conducted among U.S. military personnel found that approximately one-third of post-enlistment suicide attempts tied back to pre-enlistment mental disorders.
The results of the same research study also indicated that pre- and post-enlistment mental disorders accounted for 60% of first suicide attempts in the Army. This further highlights the importance of addressing the current status of mental health present in today’s military service member population.
Active Duty: Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. military personnel, according to data from the Department of Defense. In 2012, a record 350 service members took their own lives. That total was twice as many as the decade before and surpassed not only the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan but also the number who died in transportation accidents in the same year.
Veterans: Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s 1 suicide every 65 minutes, and that’s not including deaths that occurred in several states such as California and Texas.
National Guard: Suicide rates in the National Guard are higher than for full time troops. In 2012, 34.2 per 100,000 Guard soldiers took their own lives in comparison to 22.7 per 100,000 full time soldiers. At any given time, troops on active-duty rolls include not only full-time soldiers, sailors, Marines and Airmen; but also include National Guard or reservists who are temporarily called up to full duty status. So- while the exact numbers are hard to decipher, more than likely, the numbers are higher.
As we move toward a better understanding of emotional health, we must remain in compassionate space, refrain from judgment, and never assume that we can adequately contemplate the intensity of the battle that individuals are fighting within themselves.
The environment for the Soldier and their family members can be stressful at times. Soldiers are being deployed, leaving their spouse at home to take care of their family and the home. Soldiers are placed in a situation that can increase rates of anxiety and result in symptoms of depression once they have completed deployment and are trying to reintegrate with their family and adjust to being home. The family is placed in a situation where they often feel overwhelmed with demands and possibly guilty for feeling any sense of resentment towards the situation. Symptoms of depression are common. Recognizing these symptoms and whether they are interfering with daily life is important in this vulnerable population. It wasn’t too long ago that the Department of Veterans Affairs released data suggesting that rates of veterans taking their own lives are increasing. Learning the symptoms of depression and treating them early is the best way to prevent tragedy from occurring.
Depression is one of the most common and most treatable mental disorders. The problem lies in not knowing how to recognize depression and/or not taking action to treat the depression. At times, there may be perceived stigma associated with being “labeled” with a “mental” problem, and/or with seeking treatment for that problem. This is even more prevalent in the military population. Soldiers may feel that they just need to “be strong” and deal with issues themselves or feel they will be judged for getting mental health treatment. Failing to take appropriate action can result in a downward spiral with symptoms getting worse. A movement towards empowering soldiers to take action on symptoms of depression without repercussion will result in more of those needing help actually getting it. This movement includes family members, peers, and friends getting on board to support individuals seeking appropriate treatment.
What To Look For
Depression includes a variety of symptoms that can vary from one person to the next that continue day to day. If you notice some of these symptoms continuing for more than just a few days, it may be time to think about seeking help. Common symptoms can include but are not limited to:
1) Feeling fatigued or having no energy almost every day
2) Inability to start or finish daily tasks (cleaning the house, basic hygiene, running errands)
3) A feeling of hopelessness…like there is no reason to live, nothing to look forward to
4) Loss of concentration or inability to remember things
5) Changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or not enough)
6) Significant changes in weight (weight gain or loss)
7) Thoughts of death or suicide
It is not advised that you or someone you know use this checklist as a way to “diagnose” depression. This checklist should be used as a tool in recognizing when outside help is needed. We have also included several resources for further information on depression and depression in the military.
Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, along with their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at www.MilitaryCrisisLine.net, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
A hotline has been established specifically for the military called the “Let’s Talk” Deployment Health Helpline: 1-800-796-9699. Available from 7:30-4:30 p.m. EST.
For additional information, check out Recovery.org, which provides further resources for suicidal thought treatment and recovery.